Mexico Trip 2016

Oh MAN is it blog time! First of all I want to say that married life is the greatest thing, Tess is the greatest person. I love her beyond words. Christmas we got each other some board games and puzzles and the Lego Big Ben set and it was brief but wonderful. We serve at the Oquirrh temple Saturday afternoons, we play board games and watch shows and have people over to do double dates on weeknights, and life is all around great.

But! I wanted to write this post to document our adventures in Mexico recently! Note that neither Tess nor I are big picture takers, so sometimes we thought to get pictures, but most of the trip we totally spaced it. Uh, sorry.

So Mom knew that most of the family would be gone this Christmas, and presents alone with Mason wouldn’t be fun for any involved parties, so she looked for a vacation to do to make it more memorable. What she found instead was a service trip opportunity called Builders Without Borders of Utah. Around October she ran into one of my original therapists there, Jason Terry, and he told her the trip is wheelchair accessible enough (since most of the stuff I might help with is based out of the LDS stake center). So mom told me I should try it some year. And i was like “SOME year? If you’re going and can help with bed and bowel needs, Tess and I would probably come THIS year! We don’t even have kids yet!” so Tess and I discussed a little and let it set for a few days, but decided to do it!

We met a few times the end of the year leading up to it. Jason, who came last year, told me at a meeting “yeah, it feels really disorganized now. And it will be really disorganized when we leave. And when we get there it will feel really disorganized the whole time. But at the end of the week we’ll look back and be amazed at what got accomplished!” It might even have been worse this year because one of the two main people leading this, Chris, had his mom die the week before Christmas, and the viewing on the 26th, so him and his wife Angie (the other leader) didn’t even caravan down or cross the border with everyone.

We left Christmas day around 3 (which was sad, I really like hanging out with Tessa’s siblings, and I had all these new games I haven’t even read the rulebooks for yet…) and we drove to Las Vegas where the whole service group stayed overnight, taking over 70 rooms (some of which house more than the allowed occupancy). Apparently we had around 260 people in total.

Monday morning we woke up, met at a Target near the border, lost two trailer tires in transit (and one AT Target!) waited forever in line at the border, and finally crossed like 3 hours later than planned. We tried to be all organized and get number stickers for the order we’d go through, but it didn’t seem to matter haha. And unless people were having discussions I don’t know about then it was a pretty painless process, just a long wait is all. We had pre-packed 10 trailers earlier in the month and gave the border an exhaustive list of what was in them ahead of time, so it was pretty smooth.

Related side note: they hardly checked anything on the way in or out, if we had been wanting to sneak illegal stuff in or out of Mexico it would have been stupid easy. Although honestly it is actually refreshing to find that trust still exists at places like this.

This is us driving up to the border. On this street everyone got a text from their carrier letting us know we weren't in Kansas anymore. Er, California.

Here's a picture of some of our cars and trailers. You can see the bridge in the background of people crossing the border on foot.
Our Caravan was something like 70 cars, we lined up in 3 lines and sat around so long that people were getting out of the cars and chatting with other cars. In the top right you can see where people were actually crossing.

Things are DIFFERENT across the border. The road system in Tijuana (where we were staying and helping) is so convoluted. There are just rocks on the road at random. People walk carelessly into the street if they feel like it. There was even a magazine rack in the middle of the median for jaywalkers! Even though Tess and I have the same phone plan she got Internet service everywhere and I didn't, but we all got to the Stake Center and unpacked material. Then we went 10 minutes up the street to a smaller church where we unpacked computers and cloth. Usually we'd have unloaded everything at the Stake Center and used it as home base, but the power transformer went out at the Stake Center like 3 days before. So for most of the week we used it only as a building supplies storage. (I saw the power out at various places like 4 times in the short time we were there!)

Here's a picture at the Stake Center the last night we were there. Notice the purple lights of the night club next door

Ok, crazy road thing. Most of the roads we frequented had 4 directional traffic. That is to say they had a lane going North (Blue) and a lane going South (Red), than another lane going North and another lane going South. It was terrible! The result of this is that you couldn't just go through an intersection and turn right, or you'd be cutting across traffic going the other way (plus the medians just didn't allow it) So instead, if you need to turn right after an intersection, you instead turn right AT the intersection, go half a mile the wrong way, flip a U-turn, come back a half mile to the intersection you just left, then make a right turn. This way you're in the rightmost Northbound lane rather than the middlemost Northbound lane, and you can turn right without cutting across any traffic. Here's 1000 words about it.

This also meant no left turn when leaving the hotel. So to get to our church, we'd right turn out of the hotel, flip a U-turn, go down PAST our church, flip a U-turn again, then make a right turn into the church. It was silly! Note: I do realize not all of Mexico is like this, Utah has a bunch of pretty weird intersections too honestly. But the whole mandatory U-turns to get anywhere system was the worst. Maybe I could make a killing selling "U-turns are life!" T-shirts though?

Our hotel was actually kinda nice, nicer than the one we stayed at in Vegas, and it was less than $50 a night in American dollars! This was the hotel

This was our room

View from the foot of the bed

Bathroom (I showered in that chair, probably wouldn't have included a bathroom photo otherwise)

Beautiful window view.
Yes, that's a pile of tires.

But we only hardly did anything at the hotel but sleep. So it's a little silly I have this many pictures of it. Congratulations on viewing them.

From this point on Mom Dad and Mason had a very different trip from Tess and I. Dad was one of 15 project site leaders, each site was building a house or adding to an existing house. Apparently Chris and Angie work with the local LDS Stake President to figure out who to help (not everyone helped were members). So of the 260ish people probably 240ish were assigned to a job site. The rest of us stayed at the church and taught classes, but I'll come back to that later.

My Dad's job site was to add a room to this guy's house. Adding a room sounds like a small thing, but since this guy's house was one room with no stove and no bathroom, adding a room literally doubled his house space! I won't go into the details of how they got rained on and only had tarps with holes, and how this guy would just sell broken furniture on the corner where this was, and cool solutions my Dad's group had to come up with and such. But here's a few pictures.


Above is the final shot from us. They didn't get it to a fully finished project before they left, but it was firm and waterproofed and half wired for electricity. Builders of Utah has been coming to this same area for 9 years in a row now, and the locals have learned how to finish the projects themselves, with our donations still buying the supplies (we don't just give them money). So they finish up.

For us not on a job site, we helped out at the church. My goal was computer classes. It was a little bumpy at first for a few reasons. #1 computer classes isn't a standard part of these trips, so it's not as structured as job sites or sewing classes. We were doing it because #2 a kid on the trip was doing the classes for his Eagle project. And all of that combines with #3 I don't speak Spanish and #4 I don't know what the people want to learn so it was hard to prepare anything in advance.

Really for me the biggest bump was #2 though, the Eagle scout. Apparently his original project was just to make monitor stands for these 9 machines that had been donated, but only 1 actually needed a manually made stand. I get the impression teaching computer classes for his project wasn't his idea at all, because he totally was not involved. The first day I tried not to takeover but he was doing nothing to address the problems. I talked to his parents day 2 and got permission to make things happen on my own haha.

So! 9 desktop computers had been donated for us to use. They all had Linux (since it's free), there wasn't much to be done about that, but they all had openoffice and chrome so they do mostly everything the average user would want anyway. The problem was everyone thought "oh, the church has internet access, so it'll be fine!" However, church internet is wireless, which the desktops couldn't receive. Even if they did, when all the Builders people with their 300 mobile devices were at the church at night the wireless network was as good as not existing anyway. So we needed to hard wire in, but we didn't have the devices, and the router was in the top corner of the clerks office behind a locked door AND a locked gate.

So, Tess and I had an adventure going to Office Max and buying some Ethernet cables and a switch, Chris got someone with keys to come unlock the office, and we moved all the computers to a small classroom across the hall from the router. I was trying to figure out how to wire them up when a helpful kid named Gentry showed up and did all the manual labor I couldn't. He strung the wire through the ceiling across the hallway and down into the little classroom and got everything hooked up. We could only fit 5 computers, snugly, but it worked. This kid was the best though, an Austin Hone type, just super friendly and helpful and "what next" asking and such. I wish it had been his Eagle project haha.

To my utmost shame I totally forgot to take pictures of the computer room or any of this!. Most of the pictures on this blog were from the first day or the last day, because this wasn't really a vacation and as such I wasn't really thinking of stuff like pictures haha. Just imagine in your minds eye a tiny classroom with 5 computers on TV tray size tables, with a space in the middle small enough that my chair can't turn around. Now imagine me in the middle of that room, jumping up on top of my wheelchair and doing a little tap dance. There ya go, that's even better than pictures, right?

Throughout the week I only taught computer classes to about 8 people. The first 3 I asked what they wanted to learn, they spoke a bit of English, and they asked for Excel and PowerPoint. I did my best to teach them about formula fields and slide transitions, not sure any of it stuck though. One of the other guys who wanted to help with computer classes told me about though, which has all sorts of tutorials, even in Spanish, and that helped a TON. So with a few of the remaining people I got them started on those. The other big breakthrough was using Google Translate on my computer. One day a Spanish kid (Eriberto!) came in when I was dinking around on the desktops and was trying to talk to me, so I busted out Google Translate on my phone, and we'd talk back and forth. It worked passably but for some reason it would stop listening mid sentence a bunch, and I'd have to manually type the rest slowly on my phone. However, on my computer I type fast, so for classes I'd park where we could see each others screen, and we'd type in our respective translates back and forth. It was kinda odd to get to the end of an hour after a long conversation with the person next to you but realizing you hadn't spoken aloud anything more complicated than "yeah!" or "no" haha.

There was one guy who wanted to email his son who was on a mission, but he didn't know how! But to me the most interesting story was this guy who owned a construction business, and had an email address, but didn't know how to reply to emails! We logged in and I showed him where the reply button was. And then he was like "ok I understand that now. The other thing that confuses me is when they want symbols in the email, like dollar signs and stuff" So I explained that some keys have 2 symbols on them, and when you hold the shift key it does the top symbol. The sad?/crazy?/interesting? part was he came with his 16 year old son (the son spoke great English and was mostly raised in Cali by his mom), and the son was doing Javascript tutorials effectively on another computer, so I know the son knew how the shift key worked, the Dad just never asked I guess!

The last big part of the trip I saw was the sewing classes, which is what Tess did most of the trip. In the church gym they set up a bunch of folding tables in a Ū shape (including that accent mark) and set up 20+ brand new donated sewing machines. The stage at the back of the gym was massively full with all sorts of donated cloths of mostly bright or otherwise garish cloth, but the locals loved it! This picture is a good representation of what pretty much every day looked like, it's the viewpoint from the bottom of the Ū.

Or a rare more orderly shot.

For the Builders ladies there, and a few adept sewing locals, they had these blue aprons that said cosiendo chicas (sewing girls) so people who came to learn knew who to ask questions. Each day from like 11-5 the room was open to just whoever showed up (which was a bunch of peope, as you can see). Our group had a specific type of thing they planned to teach each day (pajama pants day, blanket day, etc) but if someone showed up and already had something in mind they wanted to make, the cosiendo chicas would help with whatever project they wanted.

At first Tess helped out in the big room most of the day, but it was pretty loud in there and left her extra tense by the evenings, so as the week went on she ended up spending progressively more time in side rooms with just a few ladies teaching them how to knit or crochet or the like. Tess had 3 favorite ladies, here is on of her favorites, Becky. We don't know why she had an eye patch, Tess never asked haha.

Some of the stories Tess tells about the whole thing are how the ladies just loved putting together what Tess thought were funny combinations of colors and patterns, like this orange and purple blanket.

To make blankets, it's essentially three pieces, a front, a back, and the batting in the middle. And they wen't through SO MUCH batting! To start our group bought six rolls of the stuff. I wish I'd taken a picture, but the rolls are basically 6 feet in diameter. A single roll takes up an entire truck bed, and sticks a few feet over the top of the truck. They had to buy and bring them one at a time. They used so much we ended up buying a seventh one the last day. And even with that, Tess got this shot of a girl gathering scraps from other peoples projects to make one more blanket.

Also, Tess gave up on trying to get the ladies to pin the edges of the blankets together before sewing them together, so the edges of the blankets were all sorts of skeewampus. A lot of the participants seemed to care more about quantity than quality haha. Even with that though, this is a shot of the amount of LEFTOVER cloth we had at the very end! (which we left behind still)

I felt like the whole sewing thing was great. I'd roll in every once in a while and kiss mi esposa (my wife!) and all the teenage girls thought we were the cutest couple ever. I loved seeing some of the ladies adore my wife though. I adore Tess and know she's absolutely wonderful, but since I'm the more outgoing one I tend to overshadow her and people don't know her as well. It was fun having something where they got to know Tess more than me, and see them find her as wonderful as I know she is too.

So! Those were the main events going on. The rest of this blog will be random stories.

In one of the emails from the group organizers with a packing list for Mexico she said bring rain protective gear because "the rain in Mexico is SO wet!" Tess and I laughed about that a bit, because isn't wet wet, and dry dry? What's "SO wet" mean? But we got to see! It did rain while we were there, and the air is a lot more humid so the effects seem to penetrate and linger a bit more. What particularly stood out to me though was the rain gutters. I'm so grateful for our roads here, I know it has to be hard to put big enough gutters and level or sloped streets in all the right places so even if it rains really hard its barely a problem. The part of Tijuana we were in did not do this very well. There were so many dips that retained water forever, and a few places driving through the water that I was pretty sure it was going to soak in to my fully submerged lowered floor.

Also, they made a funny token effort at wheelchair accessibility. I went to go get Little Ceaser's pizza one day, and the only sidewalk in I could see was one from the street, which meant I had to drive my chair completely around the building. Half way around the building was the street corner, with a ramp from the street to the sidewalk and a wheelchair painted on it, so I know they're trying. But the angle the street and the curb met was like a V shape, there's no way my chair would make it haha. Luckily I was already on the sidewalk and didn't have to get up that curb, but I went 8 more feet and there was a lamp post coming right out of the dead center of the sidewalk! I couldn't have fit around it on a scooter! Nice try Tijuana, but not quite the full effort haha. Luckily RJ had come with me, so he just went inside alone and got the pizza. I'm grateful how well planned and maintained Utah streets and sidewalks are though.

Ordering food! I definitely don't speak Spanish... It's really not that big of a deal though because if you go into KFC, point at the giant menu, and say "numero quatro, no combo" they figure it out easily enough. So I thought I had this figured out pretty good, and decided to take Tess through the McDonalds drive through to show off my manly ability to provide for my wife! We pull up, they say something I presume was a welcome, and i respond "uno momento" so I can consult Tess on what she wants. We decide on just two big macs, so I get their attention again and say as clearly but natively as I can "dos big macs, no combo", they said a question sounding phrase which I guessed meant "will that be everything?", so I said "si" then sat back feeling pretty proud of myself. But then they said something else that ALSO sounded like a question, and I had no idea what it was, so I doubled down and echoed my original statement, "dos big macs, no combo" with a tone of finality. More gibberish. So pleading I say "no habla espanol. Dos big macs, no combo?" They sounded a little exasperated, but in their response I thought I heard "ocho", and in my mind I was like "HAH! Eight! That's a number! That must be the total! I'll pull forward now!" We got the right food and the receipt looked right, so I guess technically I succeeded. But in retrospect, I'll bet when I replied "si" they had just asked "would you like anything else?" or "would you like a drink with that?", so I said yes, and ordered two big macs as my drink. Super smooth...

Temple time! The Tijuana LDS Temple was barely dedicated a year before we got there (Dec 2015 by President Uchtdorf). Tess and I decided to go do a session I think Wednesday morning? We took it slow and walked the grounds (the weather was beautiful sunny and not too warm) before and after. I again didn't think to take a picture, but my parents did when they went!

The temple was back a bit from the street, with a huge parking lot, and was so clean and orderly compared to the chaotic streets. Truly just driving through the front gates you could already feel the difference.

On the inside, I felt like the temple had extra tall roofs! I come pre-dressed in my whites, so I waited in a big center room while Tess went to change. A local temple worker come up and started talking in Spanish, and I told her I didn't speak Spanish, so in English she asked "where are you from?", I told her Utah, and she said "Oh! President Hinckley is from Utah!" and I was like "yeah!" but I was thinking "what a random thing to say! She know President Hinckley passed away like 9 years ago, right?" but gratefully before I said anything stupid, a matronly American looking temple worker came up to talk to me too, and I noticed her name tag said "Temple Matron Hinckley" and my mind went "OOOOOOoooo the TEMPLE president is also named Hinckley! That makes so much more sense!" but I thought it was funny.

Anyway, it was the first time I ever used a translation headset, and it worked flawlessly, and I kept wanting to study how the headset worked, but I resisted the urge haha. Anyway here's my dad's picture of the temple.

The last three short random notes I feel like sharing are #1 no matter where I was, it felt like every five minutes somewhere a car alarm went off within ear shot, I don't know why this is haha. #2 we were there on New Years Eve, a great time to celebrate with fireworks, but it seemed like the only fireworks they sold were glorified bombs. Massively loud, never saw a sparkle myself. #3 on the way to the stake center, there was this one street light that was forever long, and always took like 15 minutes minimum to get through. So! Enterprising individuals apparently saw the opportunity, and hired people to walk between the cars and try to sell all sorts of random stuff. Flowers, candy, blankets, "fireworks", food, you name it, I thought it was interesting haha.

Anyway, all things told it was a fantastic experience! I admittedly was very unsettled the first night and felt super out of my element, but by the end I felt pretty comfortable! I was definitely ready for home though. It's something I'd love to do again some day, but it's also not something I'd want to do every year. Maybe that's just 'cuz I was already working overtime at work the weeks leading up to it, and needed a vacation.

I'm so infinitely grateful for my wonderful wife who was willing to come on this adventure with me though, even though she hates Mexican food, and a loud huggy culture is the exact opposite of her ideal circumstances haha.